Sir George welcomes decision of Northern Area Planning Committee to reject Megashed
1 Sep 2008
The STOP Campaign after the decision at the Lights
The STOP Campaign after the decision at the Lights
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"Having sat through the whole of the debate, which lasted over four hours, I think this showed local democracy at its best. The councillors clearly took their responsibilities seriously. They had taken the trouble to absorb the hundreds of pages of material about the application - many of them technical - they had visited the site, attended public meetings and visited similar operations in other parts of the country. They had listened to those whom they represent, and they asked searching questions of their officers and the three witnesses who gave evidence. They then set out their reason for voting in a logical way."

"But what struck me was that, even the councillors who spoke and voted for the application for the megashed, did so without real enthusiasm. Their arguments varied from "There are no good reasons for saying no" to "This is all we are going to get in Andover."

"Fortunately, the majority of councillors - 13 to 11 - voted to reject the application. They did so for a variety of reasons, but a common theme was that Andover should not settle for second best and the application was not consistent with the Business Park mentioned in the local plan and the Andover Vision document. There was real concern about the extra traffic noise the site would generate on the A303 through the town."

"Cllr Charnley spoke movingly about the need for a wider range of jobs for young people in the town and Cllr Pam Mutton was also worried about prospects for young people. Cllr Phil North made a powerful speech setting out robust reasons why the application was not consistent with the local plan. He also exposed the weakness of the argument that the proposed building was no taller than the nearby Euronics building by pointing out the huge difference in the size of the two buildings."

"Several ward councillors representing Andover, Cllrs Kerley Lynn and Mutton voiced their concerns about increased traffic noise on the A303 - and that existing traffic would migrate off the A303 and use local roads. Cllr Lynn made it clear he wanted to see a range of smaller businesses on the site, rather than a Megashed and Cllr Kerley wanted any approval to be accompanied by conditions to provide sound barriers on the A303."

"Cllr Brian Page, the current Mayor, said that he was worried about the noise, and that Andover deserved better. Cllr Zilliah Brooks was also worried about noise and light pollution.
Cllr Drew extracted some valuable concessions from Goodmans about the noise from bleepers on vehicles reversing on the site, but there was some doubt as to whether Tesco would be able to guarantee that all their suppliers would use vehicles that would be fitted with the new broadband reversing systems."

"Cllr Peter Giddings said that, while those in Hurstbourne Tarrant were very worried by the proposals, those in Vernham Dean were supportive. He welcomed the £120m that would be spent on the site, arguing that this would benefit the local economy, and that councillors should be aware of the difficulties of attracting investment in the current climate."

"The Leader of the Council, Ian Carr, and the Leader of the Lib Dems Len Gates also supported the application - but the final vote did not split along party lines."

"I was heartened by the fact that councillors were not prepared to rubber stamp the recommendations of officers, but to question some of the judgements that they made and then draw different conclusions. Graham Stallard had done some useful research about local reactions to a similar operation near Litchfield by looking at the website of the village of Fradley - in many ways like the villages he represents. This operation had been held out by the applicants as a model for Andover, but it was quite clear from the reaction of residents, who were now petitioning No 10, that the reality of what was actual happening on the ground was different from what they had been led to believe when the application was granted."

"Cllr Neal pointed out that the recommendations about bunding on this site appeared to contradict what officers had said about another site in his ward. He was concerned that we would end up with a shed suitable for jumbo jets, but no airfield."

"I thought Cllr Arthur Peters made a good point with his analogy about a bag of nuts. When you buy a bag of mixed nuts, you don't expect to find a huge coconut, with the promise of some pistacchios later. But this was what was on offer from Goodmans with their mixed use Business Park - one huge warehouse, with the promise of office and hotel use later."

"Councillors seemed doubtful that we would ever see Phase 2 of the plan - with the hotel and offices. Some took the view that all we would get would be the Megashed. Although Goodmans asserted that they would vigorously market the hotel site once consent had been obtained, some councillors doubted that it would be an attractive location for a hotel, so close to a busy warehouse."

"Many were concerned about the impact of the development on those who lived in Red Post Lane. There were serious doubts about whether whether the proposed traffic monitoring measures would actually work, and concern about "parking up" in local roads. Councillors were also aware that any restrictions that they imposed could be changed after five years, or reversed on appeal."

"Councillors were also concerned at the amount of authority that was proposed to be delegated to officers to negotiate the crucial section 106 agreements. The terms of the resolution before the committee meant that they would have had no locus if they approved the outline consent that evening. The planning officers recognised this concern and conceded that they would report back so the Committee could have its say, but this concession was not enough to overcome the doubts. There was also some confusion on the part of officers, publicly conceded during the meeting, about whether or not Plot 5 and Unit 5 were to be included in phase 1. Cllr McGarry made this point effectively in his contribution, as Plot 5 would mitigate to some extent the noise generated by the Megashed. He was also concerned as to whether the waste treatment plant at Fullerton would be able to cope."

"Those in favour pointed to the benefits of a new roundabout, to be built before operations on the airfield commenced, and the contributions to training and the £2m for local transportation. They referred to the onerous conditions that were being imposed - including fines for exceeding the agreed traffic restrictions underpinned by a £1.8m performance bond- and the improvements to the original proposals put forward a year ago."

"I thought Cllr Tim Southern chaired what could have been a difficult meeting well. He was strictly neutral as Chairman of the meeting - and his vote in the event was not needed. He did however make clear his irritation to Goodmans that they had failed clearly to demarcate the site of the Megashed when the councillors visited the airfield last Friday."

"Several councillors believed that the proposals for the airfield were inconsistent with the statements in the Andover Vision document, which the Council had endorsed. They were told that, later in the year, the Council would be drawing up a new economic strategy which reflected what was in Andover Vision. (But of course, the Airfield Site would not be available for the purpose set out in Andover Vision, had consent for a warehouse been granted.)

"I was impressed that councillors weren't frightened off from doing what they believed to be right for the town by the threat of costs being awarded against them on appeal. In my view, this is most unlikely to happen."

"I have no doubt that councillors were influenced by what Katrina Savile and Rhonda Smith said in their three minute slots. (Their six minutes setting out the case against came after officers had spent nearly an hour setting out the reasons why consent should be given!) These were two carefully targetted contributions, aimed at the weaknesses in the application and in the relevant documents, and urging councillors to raise their sights for the town. Given the closeness of the result, I am also in no doubt that the work of the STOP campaign was decisive. Without their constant work over the last year, we would not have got the extra votes that were necessary."

What should happen next?

I believe two things. First, the STOP campaign recognises that it has won the first battle, but it has not won the war. There will be a meeting in about two months time in Andover of the Development Control Committee, chaired by Cllr Marion Kerley. In theory, this could overturn the decision - though I believe this to be unlikely. There was an extensive and informed four hour debate which ended with a close but clear result. After voting 13 to 11 against the motion that the application be granted, they then voted by 13 to 9 to vote for the motion that the application be refused for the reasons set out. But the Development Control Committee could influence the terms on which refusal is made. It is possible that the Government will call the decision in for determination centrally, but again I believe this is unlikely. More likely is that Goodmans will appeal against the refusal and the matter will go to a Public Enquiry held by a Planning Inspector. This would probably be held next year, with a decision in about a year's time.(Will Tesco wait?)

Which leads me to the second thing. Goodmans should recognise that there has never been any enthusiasm for this project locally. They must now recognise that there is no democratic mandate for it either. They should make a statement that they will drop their proposals; and that they will work with Test Valley Borough Council, Hampshire County Council, Andover Vision and relevant development agencies to market the site for what we want - namely a Business Park. It was no good them saying that no one wants to move to the airfield site - it has never been vigorously marketed as a Business Park. This is a competitive field, and other towns in Hampshire have stolen a march on Andover by getting their act together and winning inward investment in the growth industries. As the local MP, I want to play my part in winning the new jobs the town needs, broadening its economic base and driving up its average wages."

Debating the decision with Cllr Ian Carr, the Leader of the Council, on Andover Sound, Sir George said that one of the reasons why Ian had been on the losing side was because of his own achievements for the town. "Ian has done much for Andover through the Council. It bought the old theatre from Cricklade College and turned it into The Lights; it persuaded Asda to invest in the town and bring a multi-screen cinema. Along with many others, he campaigned for a radio station - Andover Sound - which has given us greater identity and self-confidence. As a result of all this - and the multi-million pound rebuilding of Andover College - people in Andover have raised their sights. As the Mayor of Test Valley said at the meeting "Andover deserves better."

Asked if councillors had been "threatened", Sir George replied that MP's and councillors were elected, and accountable through the ballot box for their decisions. "I don't call that a threat - I call it democracy."
 
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